11 April, 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour to be here in Washington, DC, and to address the students of Georgetown University.
Allow me to thank the BMW Center for German and European Studies and The Georgetown European Foreign Service Association for their invitation to speak to you.
We are here in Washington to attend the World Travel and Tourism Conference – to discuss the issues that affect tourism as a global industry and of course to promote Greece as a leading tourism and leisure destination.
In essence we want to promote:
The vision of our tourist policy,
The components of our tourist wealth,
The legacy of our Olympic heritage,
The dynamism of our tourist economy, and
The investment opportunities that the Greek tourist market offers.
Tourism leads the post- Olympic development momentum of our country and is one of the most important sources of revenue for our economy.
Every year, Greece attracts more or less 13 million visitors, a number higher than its population.
Tourism contributes 18% to the Gross Domestic Product of the country and more than 10% to the overall employment growth.
More than a major source of income, tourism is a pillar of our national economy, a national competitive advantage of Greece in the era of global markets.
Our government has demonstrated its commitment to tourist growth and development by establishing the Ministry of Tourism.
Today it is easier and faster to travel, to book holidays, to exchange money, to communicate across continents, to understand and appreciate local identities and cultures.
It is not surprising that, in the era of globalization, tourism contributes 10% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on a cumulative global basis.
Tourism grows together with the globalization of products and markets.
In this new global environment, competitive pressures grow for all the sectors of the tourism economy.
Quality and differentiation of the tourist product is the only way forward for tourist economies that seek to build their competitive advantage upon their unique human, natural and cultural resources.
Quality and differentiation are the strategy components for Greece in the age of global tourist markets.
In this new global age of tourism, Greece processes unique comparative advantages.
Our country has a rich history with a global essence. Some of the most important landmarks of humanity are in Greece.
Historic sites like the Parthenon and Delphi define global cultural heritage.
Our coastline is the longest and the cleanest in Europe while we enjoy the longer period of sunshine in Europe.
Our mountainous region is attractive for its natural beauty, its eco-diversity, and its historical paths
Our cultural landscape blends thousands of years of history. The legacy of classical Greece, the spiritual essence of the Byzantine civilization the presence of medieval Western Europe.
Our Mediterranean cuisine and our culinary habits define taste, diversity and health.
Hospitality is a tradition of our everyday culture and the Greek way of life attracts and seduces the modern traveler for its simplicity, openness and passion.
The organization of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games left a crucial legacy.
A cumulative television audience of four billion viewers and 22,000 journalists watched the so-called “Unforgettable, Dream Games”.
Greece proved to the world that it can organize the most complex and demanding event in the world.
We succeeded in carrying out our task in an environment of absolute safety, friendliness and celebration.
We showcased state of the art sports, transport, accommodation, convention and broadcasting infrastructure,
We acquired valuable know-how in management, communications and a booming volunteering culture.
The Athens 2004 Olympic Games created the conditions for a revolution of quality in the tourist product that Greece offers to the world.
Our vision for the new age ahead of us is to empower the product, the services and the investment offers of our tourism economy.
The commitment and the responsibility of this government is to create new and better revenue streams for our tourist economy.
We are determined to move on the upside of our economic cycle,
To invest to the services of the new tourist economy,
To target new emerging global markets,
To attract more foreign investment,
To extend the value of our tourist assets,
To create more and better jobs in the tourist industry,
To this end, we are moving towards a new strategic approach in tourism and travel.
We want to break the barriers of seasonality that we face in the development of our tourist product,
The way forward for us is to invest in the organizational and marketing infrastructure that will lead our tourist economy in the age of city-tourism.
We want to build upon this legacy.
The new strategic approach of our tourist policy does not mean that we are abandoning the core element of our tourism economy, which is the “sea and sun” tourism.
On the contrary. Our government is committed to the upgrading of all services related to uniqueness offer of the Greek Summer.
Through our new development and investor-related legislation, we provide incentives for the development of new forms of tourism and the upgrading of our accommodation infrastructure.
We are building the platforms of a ‘’new’’ tourist economy. Our plan is to support the creation of new thematic parks in our urban environment, to bid and organize major international events and exhibitions that will contribute to the growth of our urban tourism.
Greece is improving the airport infrastructure in all of our major cities and supports actively the creation of new direct flights to tourist destinations across the country.
We are investing in constant product innovation, the training of our human resources and in the development of the service sectors.
We are utilizing the volunteering social capital of the Games, so as to empower further the tradition of hospitality that our culture upholds.
We want the international tourism and investment community to come to Greece so as to enjoy a dynamic entrepreneurial culture and the value of absolute operational efficiency.
Magic words like democracy, Olympism, philosophy, theatre and music are the cornerstones of global civilization.
They are at the same time the platforms for the development of new tourist projects, products and services.
Our communications campaign, which is on air in all the major cities of the world, induces the modern traveller to discover his own myth, in the land of global myths.
In a nutshell, our major goals which we are discussing during the Conference here in Washington, are:
1. to make Greece a year-round tourist destination,
2. To attract direct foreign investment in our tourism and leisure economy,
3. to constantly improve our level of service and tourism infrastructure, and
4. to enrich our tourist and leisure products by promoting new types of activities in Greece (green and ecotourism, trekking, rock-climbing, sports tourism, religious and spiritual tourism etc.).
Prior to being appointed Minister for Tourism, I was the Minister in charge of the Athens 2004 Olympics.
There are many similarities between the Olympics and tourism.
Every country that plays host to the greatest celebration of humanity adds its own unique colour, character, hospitality, cuisine, entertainment and spirit to the Games.
From the way the home crowds cheer in the stands to the partying in the streets no set of the Games is alike.
Local cultural events and artistic expression are always an integral part of the Games which bring out the best of human and athletic achievement.
These elements also form a part of each country’s unique proposal as a tourism destination.
Each country, each city, each village and resort differentiate from each other and these parameters are key to the way each country brands and promotes its identity.
Essentially what happened in Greece prior to the Olympic Games was probably the most important re-branding exercise a European country has ever undergone.
Beyond the billions invested in infrastructure – new and improved highways, a comprehensive security plan, new subway lines, new sports venues and a new airport – Athens and Greece received positive coverage worth many billions of dollars.
All these people – either in Greece or abroad – saw the vast changes Athens and Greece underwent through our preparations for the Games.
Not only because of the New Greece that they saw, but also because we managed to combine state-of-the-art development with our historical and cultural heritage.
A mesmerizing opening ceremony was followed by 19 days of magnificent competition. Cyclists raced in the shadow of the Parthenon. Runners followed the route taken by the messenger who brought news to Athens of their triumph over the Persia – after the battle of Marathon. Archers competed in the Panathinaiko Stadium that had hosted the first modern Games, in 1896.
For the first time in almost two millennia, athletes competed in the stadium in Olympia. And, for the first time in history, women athletes competed there, as well. 45 thousand volunteers gave directions to visitors, translated signs, checked passes and placed hurdles on the track at the soaring Olympic Stadium.
The subway ran all night and so did the celebrations in Plaka and in the neighborhoods, as Greek athletes won medal after medal.
Essentially the Games re-positioned Greece in the eyes of the world.
Since the summer of 2004, we have received an amazing response from the tourism industry worldwide.
Visitors to Greece were up by 13% last year and we are expecting the same increase this year as well.
And, the Olympic Games were a 19-day advertisement for our competence and sophistication.
Potential investors discovered that Greece has the talent, attitude and infrastructure -- and the European Union membership – needed to compete in Europe, the Balkans or the Middle East.
We reconnected the Olympic movement to our shared history and to Olympic ideals; we gave the athletes the glorious celebration of sport they deserve; and, as we told our Olympic story to an eager world, we were able to reintroduce Greece, conquer old doubts, and win billions of new friends.
This did not happen by accident. We had a strategy from the beginning for how best to tell the story of these Games from the perspective of the Olympic Movement and the goals of Greece while delivering a state of the art infrastructure.
Though the Games and the athletes came first, we were eager to bring permanent benefits to Greece, by bringing global perceptions of Greece in line with 21st century Greek reality.
Our unity extended even to our neighbours and allies, as we worked together to construct a seamless security zone for the first Summer Games since 9/11.
We shared intelligence and expertise, and embarked on an unprecedented series of security maneuvers. We committed to a billion-euro security budget, brought in experts and technology from all over the world.
We hosted the safest Games to date while preserving the spirit of celebration and hope that the Olympics represenent. The athletes and visitors were never overwhelmed by our security measures.
We truly brought out the best in humanity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the last 2 decades the global tourism economy has undergone many changes.
Not only has the digital age brought us all much closer but also accessibility to the furthest regions of the planet has made us all citizens of a truly global village.
In this context, traditional tourist and leisure destinations have to adapt, innovate, diversify and enrich the range of products and services that they provide in order to attract more visitors and remain competitive.
In this perspective, the U.S. market is one of out highest priorities; Greece and the U.S. share long historical ties, the members of the Greek diaspora in the U.S. have always acted as ambassadors of the beauty of Greece and also because millions of Americans have visited Greece in the past.
We want Americans to visit Greece, to see first-hand the changes my country underwent in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games and how we combined our unique history and culture with a new array of tourism and leisure opportunities.
Last year alone we saw close to a 20% increase in visitors from the U.S.
This is evidence of the appreciation Americans are showing to our increased efforts to improve on our level of service, to provide new kinds of activities and also to the Greek way of life and hospitality.
We are looking forward to an even higher amount of visitors to Greece from the U.S. for 2006. We will continue to strengthen our ties over the next years so that our American friends will continue to visit us and feel welcome to a country that is friendly and most importantly, safe and secure.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece